New KMT chairman Eric Chu under fire for response to Xi Jinping's congratulatory message

Mr Eric Chu waving to his supporters after winning the chairmanship of Kuomintang Party in Taipei on Sept 25, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI - Newly elected chairman of Taiwan's main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) Eric Chu has sparked an uproar on the island with his response to a congratulatory message from Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The Chinese leader, for the first time in a message to a leading KMT member, on last Saturday (Sept 25) spoke of his hopes for Taiwan and the mainland to strive for "(our) country's unification".

Responding, Mr Chu said that he was "anti-Taiwan independence", stating that he hopes for the KMT and China to "find common ground and respect one another's differences" with the "1992 consensus" as foundation.

Reached between Beijing and a KMT administration in Taipei, the so-called 1992 consensus maintains that there is only "One China", but leaves that open to interpretation by both sides. The term refers to "the People's Republic of China" for Beijing, but refers to "The Republic of China" (ROC) for the KMT.

The 1992 consensus led to rapprochement and enabled cross-strait trade, investment and tourism to flourish while the KMT was in power in Taipei. But relations deteriorated after the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) made inroads in Taipei.

Mr Chu, in his response to Mr Xi, blamed the ruling DPP for being "anti-China" and causing cross-strait relations to sour.

Mr Chu also signed his letter and dated it "Year 110" but "The Republic of China" was omitted from the date. Usually attached to official letters from Taiwan, the official calendar uses 1912 as its first year, as it was the year the ROC was established.

Soon after the letter was published in local news reports, several DPP lawmakers blasted the new KMT chairman.

DPP's Wang Ting-yu mocked Mr Chu for being "obedient" in "welcoming China's 'anti-Taiwan independence' stance", and fellow DPP lawmaker Su Chiao-hui described the new KMT chief as "the second Carrie Lam that dares not refute the Communist Party of China's (CPC) plans to unify Taiwan".

Mr Wang shared Mr Chu's letter on his Facebook page, and many of the comments under his post echoed his sentiments.

"The KMT is the one trying to end the ROC" and "Eric Chu only knows how to kowtow to the Chinese Communist Party" were just two of the comments.

While much of the focus on the Internet was on how the "ROC" was missing from the letter, a spokesman for Mr Chu's office said the exchange between Mr Xi and Mr Chu was nothing out of the ordinary.

This is true to some extent. KMT chairmen in the past have followed the same date format, but Mr Chu is the first of the party's chairmen to reinforce his "anti-Taiwan independence" stance with the emphasis on "finding common ground and respecting (Taiwan and China's) differences".

Many younger KMT members want to see the party drop its outdated cross-strait policies, but it appears that the new chairman may not be ready for change just yet.

KMT member Chang Cheng-hsin, 34, who voted for Mr Chu in last Saturday's party poll, thinks his response was "understandable" as he has to cater to older KMT members who voted for him.

"These people do wish for China and Taiwan to be reunified, and generally favour keeping the '1992 consensus' alive," said Mr Chang, who is a KMT member working for the party's legislative caucus.

However, Mr Chang also believes the KMT is doomed if its leadership continues to hold onto the ambiguity that "allows many Taiwanese to think the KMT is pro-unification and supports China's 'one country, two systems' plan for Taiwan".

As the KMT's main concern now is to gain younger votes in order to win future elections, Mr Chang said its priority should be to "state clearly and publicly - without being pressured - that the KMT is against reunification with China and against 'one country, two systems'".

"They also need to convince young people that they are not selling out to China and will keep Taiwan's sovereignty intact," he added.

One political analyst said that the KMT under Mr Chu seems unwilling to distance itself from China, opting instead to focus on battling the DPP.

"The KMT has many big issues to deal with, and the first is how it doesn't regard China as a threat," said Dr Chen Fang-yu, a political scientist based in Taipei.

"The second issue is that even if the KMT is not against the CPC, it plans on working with the regime that calls for unification all day long to fight an opponent party under the same democratic system - this is colluding with the enemy," added Dr Chen.

Mr Eric Chu blamed the ruling DPP for being "anti-China" and causing cross-strait relations to sour. PHOTO: REUTERS

The KMT's determination to take the battle to the DPP was evident again in the legislature on Tuesday amid a brawl between their legislators over the ruling administration's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The KMT has been demanding that Premier Su Tseng-chang apologise for his government's handling of the Covid-19 outbreaks, especially quarantine lapses that led to a spike in cases beginning in May.

Mr Chu, in a Facebook post, said it was the DPP that was to blame for the fracas as its legislators had prevented the KMT from including questions about Covid-19 on the agenda.

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